Lighting Design

This blog will document the design journey, influential thinking and key research that have brought me to this final lighting outcome.

Initially my entire final major project for my product design MA centred around lighting, personally drawn to the effect light can have on the surface I intended to further my research into the interaction of lights with a textile and paper surface, this however is not the journey I ended up taking and now seems almost a lifetime ago!

Within Snuggle there is a two pronged approach to the lighting design: firstly to shade from light (e.g. providing a similar function as a hood on a pram) to allow sleep and secondly to provide light to replicate the womb.  During research it was identified that certain colours of light can also help to promote sleep.

From the start I intended to use the sense of light to recreate the sensory conditions of the womb by creating an enclosed dark pod. " An unborn infant, says Dr Als, is basically peering through a fog of amniotic fluid into a dark cave. It’s possible that a bright light might filter through to the womb but, to the infant, it probably means the difference between dim and dimmer." (Cornell, 2016) No matter the mothers skin tone or race, all babies will experience this red hue; due to the light passing through blood vessels “ Your baby actually sees shades of red and orange in bright light." (Rhoads, 2012)

Originally I had intended to include these red lights into the leg raise, allowing for a projection of both shapes and tones across the inside of the hood. Utilizing a ‘northern lights’ replicating projector I had explored the similarities of these shapes to that of the shapes seen within the womb. Unfortunately this avenue was quickly ruled out as it contained large moving parts, and required a significant power source. During the next design development stage it was decided that the lights would be incorporated into the hood because the purpose of the ‘add-on’ hood was to address light.  Therefore from a modular and marketing point of view it made sense to combine these features.

As I carried out further research it became apparent that a red light also has proven scientific benefit in encouraging sleep. 

Our internal body clock or ‘circadian rhythm’ is adjusted daily in response to our environment of external cues, the most important of which is daylight. This body clock is responsibly for regulating our sleeping patterns, through the release of a hormone called ‘melatonin’ which chemically causes drowsiness and lowers body temperature (Mastin, 2013)

It is now well accepted that the circadian system is very sensitive to short-wavelength (blue) light and is quite insensitive to long-wavelength (red) light. Retinal exposures to blue light at night have been recently shown to impact alertness, implicating participation by the circadian system.

.  This has an effect not only on the baby but also on the parents – research showed that pulsing of the red light would potentially reduce stress levels.  On this basis the design incorporated a band of red LEDs, however, the pulsing light was not incorporated as this deviates from the womb environment and it is judged that the effect on the baby is more important that the potential stress reduction in the parents.  LEDs were chosen due to the low power requirements, life expectancy and low heat output.  I also explored other sources of light, such as EL wire.  However, these did not achieve the desired effect.


Following this, the design evolved to consider internal hood lighting. The first trial was in the use of EL wire.  This was unsuccessful, as the wire did not generate/ project enough light and would present an environment of red stripes rather than a womb like red glow.  The final prototyping settled on a strip of battery powered red LEDs.  The placement of the strip was varied to assess the effect on the light diffusion.  It was realised that placing the source behind the baby’s head resulted in a projection of light that reflected back off the hood to create an even warm glow.  The various phases are documented in the Figures below.

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Final Design

The final design evolved following the prototyping to relocate the LED strip to behind the baby’s head, on the second hood support strut.  In addition, it was recognised that the product needs to be transitional and so a dimmer functional has been included.  This could be implemented in practice using a system similar to Philips Hue, whereby the light is controlled via a mobile application.  One issue still to be resolved is the location of battery pack/ source.

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The process of incorporating light has be educational – I’ve learnt that light can physically effect your mood and well-being.  This is a new dimension to light, which has been an instrumental part of my design journey.  This learning will influence my lighting design products in the future.


"If you have a baby, managing her exposure to light and dark is key in the early months while the circadian rhythm is maturing. In the morning, raise the shades and take her outside for a dose of indirect sunlight. As bedtime approaches, make the lights dim and keep them low during the night for feedings." (See: Visual conditions & sleep - national sleep foundation, 2012)


"There is ONE type of light that doesn’t do this however. Red. Red based light has a much higher wavelength than white/blue/green light, which research shows (see links at end) does not inhibit melatonin. It doesn’t so much improve sleep, it just doesn’t interfere with the chemical building blocks of it. Of course the absolute best lighting to use in the nursery is nothing. Pitch black. This isn’t realistic however when it comes to night feeds or nappy changes. So red is by far the best second option. Don’t just focus on the nursery however, think about the light your child is exposed to before bed – like in the bathroom. Is your bathroom lit by regular white light? (even worse, are they energy saving lightbulbs – which emit much more blue light than old style incandescent bulbs) If so you might want to invest in some battery operated, more appropriate light." (Ockwell-Smith, 2015a)


"How light affects sleep Have you ever woken up just minutes before your alarm goes off and marveled at your body's sense of time? Humans (and most living creatures) have an internal clock that mirrors nature's cycles of day and night. Nestled deep in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus, this timekeeper regulates many of our body's functions, such as sleep, energy, and hunger. Sunlight detected by cells in the retina of the eye sends messages to the brain that keep us in a roughly 24-hour pattern. These light cues trigger all kinds of chemical events in the body, causing changes in our physiology and behavior. For example, as evening approaches and the light in our environment dwindles, the hormone melatonin begins to rise and body temperature falls—both of which help us to become less alert and more likely to welcome sleep. With the help of morning light, melatonin levels are low, body temperature begins to rise, and other chemical shifts, such as an uptick in the activating hormone cortisol, occur to help us feel alert and ready for the day." (Stephan and Zucker, 1972)


Mastin, L. (2013) Sleep - how sleep works - Circadian rhythms. Available at: (Accessed: 6 September 2016).

Ockwell-Smith, S. (2015a) Gentle sleep book: For calm babies, toddlers and Pre-Schoolers. United Kingdom: Piatkus Books.

Stephan, F.K. and Zucker, I. (1972) ‘Circadian rhythms in drinking behavior and Locomotor activity of rats are eliminated by hypothalamic lesions’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 69(6), pp. 1583–1586. doi: 10.1073/pnas.69.6.1583.

See: Visual conditions & sleep - national sleep foundation (2012) Available at: (Accessed: 6 September 2016).